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Is Internet ban the best plan for those pesky pythons?

Sen. Lee Constantine says a ban on Internet sales of pythons and other "reptiles of concern" might be one way for lawmakers to deal with recent concerns about the strong pythons that have invaded the Everglades and are being seen more and more in areas to the north.

"Those sales are one thing we've got to stop," Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs, said Tuesday during a meeting of his chamber's environmental preservation committee. He also wants to encourage the sale of pythons outside of Florida.

The ideas are just that for now, but Constantine and other lawmakers in both chambers are working with the FWCC to come up with proposals for consideration during the legislative session this spring.

The Burmese python is one of the most harmful and elusive non-native species to invade the Everglades. Federal officials estimate there could be more than 150,000 of them slithering through the River of Grass, where they kill prey like raccoons and even wading birds by squeezing them. The predatory pythons breed freely in tropical South Florida, where they have been known to eat deer and bobcats. A pregnant python carries as many as 60 eggs at a time, breeding once a year. 

Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, likened the proliferation of the reptiles to "cancer" that spreads.

"Now what do we do?" she said. "How do we keep the species from spreading even further without having an outright ban?"

Already, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has taken steps to deal with the Burmese python and other such reptiles, said Lt. Col Jim Brown. Among the measures: Enlisting volunteer hunters to capture the reptiles in the Everglades and surrounding South Florida area; and holding events where reptile owners without the proper licenses can surrender them without penalty. The FWCC also has tightened the age requirement to get a license, making it 18 and older, as well as setting tougher cage requirements and microchipping reptiles.

And already the changes are having an affect, said Brown. There are fewer dealers selling the reptiles, and most of those sold are going out of state.

"People are understanding now these animals have to be permitted," Brown said.